Volunteer helps return Fort McMurray senior's garden to former glory

·3 min read
Melisa Gladue goes to Verkuil's home every morning to water the plants before work. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)
Melisa Gladue goes to Verkuil's home every morning to water the plants before work. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)

Cora Verkuil, 81, took loving care of her garden in Fort McMurray every year for 40 years.

But her declining health made that difficult over the last few years, and the garden fell into disarray. Then, 26-year-old Melissa Gladue took it upon herself to weed the garden, buy the plants and bring it back to its former glory.

Gladue met Verkuil through the St. Aidan's Society's senior outreach program. The program matches seniors with volunteers to provide the seniors with companionship.

Gladue started communicating with Verkuil in November 2020, but because of COVID-19 they first met over email.

"She would email me photos of her garden and it just kind of sparked the conversation," said Gladue.

Verkuil isn't able to do upkeep on the garden anymore.

Cora Verkuil's garden is full of flowers for the first time in years.
Cora Verkuil's garden is full of flowers for the first time in years. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"It was a shower thought," said Gladue, who came up with the idea two weeks ago. "I was trying to think what's the one thing that would have a lot of meaning for her and her garden was number one."

It took 10 days to get the garden fixed. Canadian Tire donated all the flowers and about 25 people volunteered to help. Residents also donated planters, baskets and $1,500 for materials.

They finished the project on June 4.

"It was so nice to get all the dandelions out. It was a never-ending task," said Gladue.

Verkuil couldn't go outside to help or watch, so Gladue made a get-to-know your gardener scrapbook for Verkuil. It includes information about all the volunteers helping.

Cora Verkuil with her scrapbook of the garden.
Cora Verkuil with her scrapbook of the garden.(Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"It just allowed her to have a part of the garden project as well," said Gladue.

Verkuil was a volunteer in Fort McMurray for years, and Gladue said it's time that someone did something nice for her.

Gladue said she struggles to keep fake plants alive, so she was very dependent on Verkuil's knowledge to build the garden.

"It just couldn't have turned out better."

Now, Gladue goes to Verkuil's home everyday to water her plants before work.

A before shot of the garden. Gladue says pulling out all the dandelions was a big job.
A before shot of the garden. Gladue says pulling out all the dandelions was a big job. (Submitted by Melissa Gladue)

"It means a lot to me," said Verkuil. "Thanks to Melissa. She's a good volunteer."

Pam Burns, seniors outreach supervisor for the St. Aidan's Society, said Verkuil was sending her pictures throughout the process of rebuilding the garden.

"I can't wait to see it all bloom and grow even stronger," said Burns, who added the timing is tremendous given that it's Senior's Week.

"With a caring heart and hand… you can really create a lot of energy and excitement in an older person."

Gladue said there is still $1,000 leftover from the donations that weren't used on the garden. She's donating that money to the St. Aidan's Society.

Melissa Gladue spent hours rebuilding the garden.
Melissa Gladue spent hours rebuilding the garden.(Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)